When Suzanne Dhaliwal wrote this response to my concerns over mental health stigma in the workplace, I began to wonder how many times I had met other women of colour within the activist networks who had recited the same story: the same feeling of not belonging, not quite knowing where they could be placed within this so-called “alternative” society, and why they felt ostracised while so many others found it so easy to participate.
This is also my story, where I have been called out for using the racism card, ignored for challenging ethnocentric analyses, and been criticised for placing some importance to my family. That is why for the past couple of years, I’ve bowed out of activism, choosing instead to try and find somewhere else my skills would be valued. What I learned, however, was that they were certainly not to be found within the workplace or in mainstream political parties – at least not when meshed with my moral and political values.
The problem with all these places, and specifically activism, is that people think it is simply acceptable to “add-colour-and-stir” without actually changing anything about the way in which they behave and organise, let alone think. Underlying this is a seemingly rigid set of (unspoken) beliefs that, if challenged, leave you out of this ‘alternative’ society, or simply branded as not having the ‘right politics’.
For example, I have found that within my grandparents’ generation of Asian society, there is a huge onus on owning your own home. My grandfather’s pride in being ‘uncolonised’ comes from the fact that he can afford to live in a non-ghettoised area, and decide what he wants to do with that land rather than have it decided for him. Is that capitalist? Perhaps, but it is also a sense of liberation from imperialism and racism. Similar stories come out of Eastern Europe, where the use of ‘comrade’ and other Soviet-era discourse is highly related to tales of disadvantage and dictatorship, not the friendly left-wing banter many link it to.
If activists in the UK really desire diversity, which I sometimes question anyway, they need to be able to make radical changes to the way they organise. They need to be much more open and welcoming, acknowledging privilege and also making sure that those silenced voices now speaking are actually listened to. And that this is converted into change. Flexibility as well as reflexivity is essential here, with efforts made to really challenge and open up ‘radicalism’ into the actual radical.
As Suzanne says, this is the only way we are going to change the world – by being able to converse and bring in everyone, not retain this endless homogeneity by thinking that we are somewhat in the right (above all others).
That is why I propose that any woman (in the broadest possible sense) of colour, or anyone who is feeling ostracised for being ‘different’ should join hands with others, and that we fight this battle together rather than alone. Supporting each other, we can find spaces which are more inclusive, and perhaps through that show what real radicalism looks like.
If you are interested in organising this, please leave a comment below, and I will email you on anything we do follow through with.
4 thoughts on “Inclusive Movement? A call to action”
Awesome stuff, Nishma!!!!
There’s something I wrote in the chapter of the book I sent you that was to the effect of: ‘Privilege and prejudice make self-identified progressive people so uncomfortable, because they force us to look at the parts of ourselves that have been shaped by the parts of the world we are trying to change.’
The problem is of course that we are all, to varying degrees, shaped by the world we find ourselves in, and rather than denying the ugly results that this sometimes creates, we need to be better at acknowledging the ways we might be accidentally reinforcing old power/discrimination dynamics, so we can do something about them. As a white male I try to be conscious of this quite a lot, but that we all have moments when we have privilege over others that we might be exercising unconsciously (and often, as a result, destructively, even if that’s not our intent).
I’ve been thinking a lot about building empathy as a way to support change amongst those with broadly more kinds of privilege than others. Basically, hearing the emotional level of the experiences of others trying to cope in systems that really don’t work for them, and taking that experience in at face value, at a visceral level. In a sense, it’s not about the intellectual level of understanding of ‘why’ someone is struggling, it’s about experiencing the fact that they are struggling, and as a fellow human being, I want to do what I can to help change that… I’ve found that the intellectual level of understanding can flow from that, rather than the other way around…
Maybe this sounds really fluffy… this is just a line of thinking I’ve been mulling over since reading Sue’s blog yesterday, but I think there’s a real lack of empathy in the situations that you and she and so many others (me too, in certain dynamics) have experienced.
So I’m in, whatever that means, I want to be a part of this change.
Thank you for staying courageous! 🙂
A strong belief which is opposed to reality but which the individual steadfastly maintains despite all evidence of its untruth is called a delusions. Patients who experience persistent delusions are said to be paranoid.